BEDMINSTER, NJ — Donald Trump’s attempt to dominate the Republican presidential debate from afar Wednesday night stumbled into murky and sometimes bizarre territory as he mused with commentator Tucker Carlson on a possible civil war, the way convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein was imprisoned. died and whether he was concerned about possible assassination attempts.
Carlson, an ardent Trump sympathizer and former Fox News host, sent Trump to each of these topics in a 45-minute taped conversation that began streaming on X, the social network formerly known as Twitter, just five minutes before Trump’s eight of the Republican Party’s biggest rivals entered the fray. the debate stage in Milwaukee.
Trump’s decision to sit down with Carlson at his club in Bedminster — rather than engage in talks with Republican rivals in one of the country’s most divided swing states — illustrated his position in the 2024 Republican primary and, more broadly, his position in his reformed version of the 2024 Republican election. the Republican Party.
When Trump skipped a Republican primary debate in 2016 just before the Iowa caucuses, he covered up the decision in a rally ostensibly raising money for veterans. With the former president holding a double-digit lead in both national and early polls, Trump sought to evade Carlson’s questions about Epstein. But in the end, these were the kinds of questions he decided to face rather than face his chief adversaries.
“Should I sit there for an hour or two or whatever it will be and be harassed by people who shouldn’t even be running for president? Do I have to do that?” Trump rhetorically asked Carlson, and he brushed off the idea of being scrutinized by other Republican candidates, most of whom only polled by a few numbers.
Trump dismissed his main rival to date in 2024, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, as “gone-zos” when he spoke to Carlson, while DeSantis fell back in the polls over the summer.
“DeSanctus is out,” Trump said. ‘I think he’s gone. He was on a level – people got through to him. He is gone.”
On Thursday, Trump will fly to Georgia to formally surrender to the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office after he was indicted last week on state charges stemming from his alleged attempts to overturn Georgia’s 2020 election results.
“I have been sued four times – all trivial, nonsense, bull—-. It’s all bullshit,” Trump told Carlson. “It’s horrible when you look and see what they’re doing.”
Trump also echoed the allegations of voter fraud that eventually led to two of his indictments this summer, saying, “They cheated in the election. But you have people who are very smart, but they are fascists and radical left madmen.”
Foreshadowing his race in 2024, Trump also said he expects to make similar claims of massive voter fraud next year: “Oh yes, they will try. They’re going to try.”
But Carlson also steered Trump into more unusual territory, asking him multiple questions about possible future violence in the country, including a possible civil war and hypothetical attempts to assassinate Trump.
“It started as protests against you…then it went on to impeachment twice and now to indictment – I mean, the next phase is violence,” Carlson said. “Are you afraid they’re going to try to kill you?” Why wouldn’t they try to kill you – honestly?”
“They are wild animals,” Trump replied. “They are people who are sick – really sick.”
When Trump was specifically asked about the possibility of open conflict, he replied, “There’s a level of passion I’ve never seen. There’s a level of hatred I’ve never seen, and that’s probably a bad combination.”
He also objected after Carlson questioned him for two minutes about Jeffrey Epstein’s death, which has spawned a vast network of alternative theories, even as federal officials determined Epstein died by suicide.
“Oh yes, it’s possible,” Trump said when Carlson asked if he thought it was possible that Epstein was killed. “I mean, I don’t really believe it—I think he probably killed himself.”
Trump also continued to take a level-headed approach to Russian aggression in his war against Ukraine, as many of his Republican Party presidential opponents spoke out in support of Ukraine during Wednesday night’s debate.
“That is a war that must end immediately – not because of one side or the other, but because hundreds of thousands of people are being killed,” he said.
As the field of Republican Party presidential candidates was shown Wednesday night, Trump, the Republican Party’s front-runner, focused largely on Democratic President Joe Biden, targeting his attacks at Biden’s age.
“I think he’s worse mentally than physically, and physically he’s not exactly a triathlete or any kind of athlete for that matter,” Trump said. “It looks like he’s walking on toothpicks.”
This article was originally published on NBCNews.com